Shared leadership at the workplace

A win-win for the team and the leader

The word “leadership” is often spontaneously associated with the formal leadership of a CEO or a team manager. We also expect a lot of our leader: operational guidance, motivating words, social support, innovating ideas, a good representation towards the outside world, etc. It is clear that the bar is set high. However, the diversity of talents required to fulfil these very different expectations might even set the bar unrealistically high for a single leader.

That brings up the question: how then can we achieve optimal leadership anno 2022? The key is to look beyond the formal leader and maximally develop the leadership potential of the team members. By harnessing the leadership talents of team members and supporting them to actively take up a leading role, these ‘peer leaders’ can play an essential role in optimizing their team’s functioning. We would like to share two recent research projects that offer new insights about shared leadership at the workplace.

Our first research project confirms that leadership talents in the workplace are generally not concentrated in one person, but are distributed throughout the team. Moreover, having high-quality peer leaders on the team seems to be related to a stronger team identity (a shared ‘we’-feeling instead of ‘you’ and ‘me’), enhanced team effectiveness, increased work satisfaction, and a lower risk for burn-out in team members. Lastly, an important note for the manager: choosing for shared leadership does not mean that your own status as a leader is diminished. This study even showed the opposite to be true: teams with strong leaders in the team see their manager as a better leader as well!

Despite the promising potential of shared leadership, executing it in practice is often not straightforward. An important question here is which leadership roles the team members should ideally take up. Our newest research project answers this exact question. More specifically, this second research project entailed both a qualitative part (interviews and expert panels) and a quantitative part (large-scale questionnaire). The result is a list of 10 leadership roles that can be occupied by peer leaders, and which are all positively linked to beneficial outcomes, such as team effectiveness, organisational citizenship behaviour, team cohesion, and job satisfaction.

Are you curious about what these leadership roles look like?